“A lot of people think pop music is the devil’s music,” Betty Who told me over the phone on the first day of her North American tour. “I grew up wanting to sing to Mariah Carey.”
Australian-born Betty Who, 22, began playing the cello at the age of four, a talent that garnered her permanent residency in America at sixteen. But it wasn’t until she arrived at the Berklee College of Music that she started her journey towards becoming pop music’s it-girl du jour.
“I’ve always been invested in music, but at Berklee I was finally surrounded by people who had the same appreciation for pop music that I had,” she said. “I started focusing more on writing songs, singing and performing.”
At Boston’s reputable music school, Who discovered exactly what she wanted to do and was “finally brave enough” to pursue it: a career as an indie pop singer with Top 40 potential. She recruited her manager, her band, producer and engineer and released her first EP when she was still in college, a junior.
In 2013 Who’s The Movement became the breakthrough EP that would eventually lead to a deal at RCA, a record label she said she trusts.
“I was expecting to be performing on my own for four or five years before signing with a major label,” she said of her rather-realistic musical aspirations. Her next single, “Heartbreak Dream” will be released in February just in time for Valentine’s Day and her next five-song EP can be expected in March or April.
“My development with a major label did not take as long because I already had a band with me, I already knew the sound,” Who said. “I already had a vision.”
Currently, Betty Who is on tour, wooing an emerging fan base with shows at the Echo in L.A. on Tuesday and the Rickshaw Stop in S.F. on Thursday. Of course, gay pop music aficionados have already been fawning over this soon-to-be musical sensation for months. Her gay fan base is attributed largely to her song “Somebody Loves You” being the official soundtrack to the Queerties-winning gay Home Depot marriage proposal viral video with over 11 million views to date.
“They called my manager to ask for permission and credit the song,” Who said. “At the time we didn’t think much of it, but by the end it was the best thing that could have happened to us.”
Who will be performing at the gay couple’s gay wedding in February and is thrilled when she is asked to perform at an LGBT foundation. Yet, she never once thinks of herself as pandering.
“I don’t sit in a room wondering whether the gays will love this song,” she said. “But I do have a lot of young gay friends and fans, and promoting the safety of LGBT youth is something I want to work towards.”
But don’t call her a gay icon just yet. When asked about her feelings regarding the recent gay marriage ban in her home country Australia, Who fessed up.
“I’ve been a bad ally recently and have not been caught up on all that’s going on,” she said.
Fair enough. When was the last time we expected our pop stars to be perfect?
Oscar Raymundo is the creator of Confessions of a Boy Toy.
Photo: Shervin Lainez